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Earl Sweatshirt Solidified His Cult of Personality at Mill City Nights

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Earl Sweatshirt 
Mill City Nights, Minneapolis
Friday, March 27, 2015

"I'm OK with being more self-centered now," Earl Sweatshirt told NPR's Microphone Check last week. "How ever important you treat yourself is how everyone's going to treat you."

It was evident the Odd Future representative was living that maxim as he took the stage at Mill City Nights on Friday night, exuding the confidence and arrogance of a young despot. Sweatshirt was performing in support of his sophomore album, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, a release that his label famously fucked up. The 21-year-old rapper had unminced words for his label, releasing a diatribe against Columbia that a Doris-era Sweat might not've been self-centered (or self-assured) enough to take public.

But we're dealing with a new Earl now, one who's out to assert his art on his own terms. I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside was conceived in isolation that allowed Sweatshirt to free his music of outside influences (as much as that is possible), and his Minneapolis show was a coming out party for his newly born cult of personality.

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Greeted by a wall of applause, Sweatshirt burst onto the stage alongside Vince Staples, ripping through the pair's collaborative tracks "Wool" and "Hive." After, he dismissed his opener and asserted his dominion over the room. This would be the prevailing theme of the evening -- control.

Where so much of Doris is loaded with energy and shout-out-loud punchlines, I Don't Like Shit is more reserved. On the album, Sweatshirt rarely goes above a stony mumble when dishing on his hangups about his grandma's death and an expiring relationship, but on stage, all the material came with a volt of charisma that had the crowd boiling.

Sweatshirt was flawless in his delivery all night, not stepping on a syllable or running short a breath on any bar. Presiding over the crowd in a black waffle longsleeve, Sweatshirt exercised his will, whipping up a chant of "I'mma fuck the freckles off your face, bitch!" during "Molasses." Even the Irish in the crowd participated gleefully, forgetting themselves in the gravity of Earl's influence. New songs like "Huey" had been similarly indoctrinated by those in attendance, and much to Sweatshirt's feigned surprise, the rows threw back every ad lib on I Don't Do Shit with gusto.

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The most telling moment of Sweatshirt's coming-of-despotism was during "Grief," wherein Sweatshirt's DJ botched a transition about three-quarters of the way through. The song, which was the center of the maelstrom that was Columbia's F-grade release of I Don't Do Shit, needed to be reclaimed. Following the hiccup, Sweatshirt stopped the show and had his DJ run the instrumental back to the beginning. Then he began again.

In this moment, the crowd saw an artist unwilling to have his creative output mitigated anymore. By refusing to relinquish control of "Grief"'s quality to his butterfingered DJ -- or, by proxy, the suits at Columbia -- Sweatshirt showed that he is indeed embracing selfishness, and it's all for the better.

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Sweatshirt makes the kind of music that makes 18-year-olds feel goddamn invincible. He recognizes this, and he wields the authority like a broadsword. He had the entire floor pogoing during "Chum," "Sunday," and "Mantra," only to calm the intoxicated concertgoers to obedience in the very next song.

In advance of "Grown Ups," Earl split the crowd down an arbitrary meridian, assigning half of the chorus to each hemisphere. When one drunken fratboy in the front refused to step left or right, Sweatshirt imperiously mocked his haircut and intellect, making the man shrink into compliance with the masses. The throng repeated back their lines, with Sweatshirt beaming knowingly. A song later, during "DNA," Sweatshirt again exercised his dominion, banishing cell phones from the performance -- a decree which was eagerly followed. (In an 18+ crowd, this is nothing shy of a miracle).

Since his return from Samoa, Earl Sweatshirt has been heralded as the prodigy serving under Tyler, the Creator's David Koresh. Though his skills have been as-advertised, the dissolving partnership between the two indicates that Sweat is a pedagogue in his own right. It sounds a bit too prophetic and grandiose to not be fiction, but there's a house full of Minneapolitans from Friday night who can attest that they've seen Earl Sweatshirt transcend his prophecy.

Critic's bias: I'm about four years too old to really, intimately fuck with Odd Future, but I've always seen Sweatshirt as one of the group's two transcendent talents (the other being Frank Ocean, of course).

The crowd: Buncha college laxbois tossing faux gang signs and wearing Young & Restless tees under their North Face fleeces. The guy in front of me was rocking orange Crocs. Honestly, one of the worst crowds I've ever been in.

Setlist:
Wool (with Vince Staples)
Hive (with Vince Staples)
Pre
Centurion
Huey
Drop
Molasses
Grief
Grief (again)
Whoa
Orange Juice
Earl
Chum
Sunday
Mantra
Grown Ups
DNA
Inside
Faucet

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